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Araceli D. Montuya, right, confers with her counsel, Aaron Uslan, at the lawyer’s office in Silver Spring, Maryland.

 

A Filipina domestic worker who has a pending slavery and maltreatment lawsuit against her former employers, the current Lebanese ambassador to the United States and his wife, has asked the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF) to assist in her pursuit of justice.

Lawyers for Araceli D. Montuya, 50, of Washington, D.C. filed the federal suit on May 4, 2010 at the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia against Ambassador Antoine Chedid and his wife Afife Nicole Chedid.

But nine months after the civil complaint was filed, Montuya is worried about its progress.

The lawyer for the Chedids, Mary Gately, categorically denied all the accusations and immediately filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Gately pointed out in court papers that her clients are entitled to diplomatic immunity from the suit under the Vienna Convention.

Meanwhile, FALDEF president J.T. Mallonga said he is now in touch with Montuya’s counsels — Aaron Uslan and Laurence F. Johnson — to see what FALDEF can do to help.

Uslan told the Filipino Reporter that Montuya, a native of Baybay, Leyte and a mother of 10, was made to work for $3 per hour — way below the minimum wage — as a full-time housekeeper and nanny for approximately 16 hours per day, six days a week, for a period of 26 months from August 2007 through September 2009.

“She was not paid the minimum wage, including overtime, as stipulated in a contract our client and her former employers signed with the U.S. Department of State,” said Uslan.

“There were times she was made to work until two in the morning with no extra pay.”

“The contract also stated she was entitled to at least two free days a week and one month paid vacation after two years of employment,” Uslan added.

“But she was only given one day off (Sunday) and was not paid during her one-month vacation to the Philippines.”

The complaint also accuses the ex-employers of causing Montuya “intense emotional distress” due to constant insults.

Montuya, in her suit, claims Afife Nicole Chedid shouted at her on a daily basis, calling her “stupid” or “hamara” (female donkey) many times in front of guests and co-workers, and once told her “f__k you” in front of other people, including Mrs. Chedid’s teenage son.

“I could only cry whenever she embarrassed me in front of people, inuslted me or called me names,” Montuya, who now works part time cleaning houses in the D.C. area, told the Reporter in a phone interview arranged by her lawyers.

Montuya said the abuses actually began way back in 2002 in Lebanon, where she worked for the Chedid family without contract until 2007.

During the five years that she stayed with them, she said her employers kept her passport and allowed her to go on vacation in the Philippines only once.

When they moved to the U.S. in 2007, she said she thought her situation would improve because of the employment contract they signed with the Department of State.

“I was promised I would get bigger pay and better working condition,” Montuya said.

“Of course, it’s America, so I thought everything will improve...everything will be fine, and there’s an employment contract that will protect me. But I was wrong.”

Her lawyers said the defendants knew Montuya had no family in the U.S. and that it would be difficult for her to report her plight to authorities or leave her employers’ home.

“They (Chedids) violated her basic human rights, including her right to be protected against being taken to foreign nations for purposes of exploitation,” said co-counsel Laurence F. Johnson.

Montuya claimed her services were abruptly terminated in 2009, and without separation pay, after her employers witnessed her “gift of tongue,” a spiritual phenomenon usually among Christian spiritual healers.

As a member of a healing ministry in Mandaue, Cebu, Philippines, Montuya claims she has the divine ability to speak in a spiritual language unfamiliar to the one speaking while in a trance-like state.

But this spiritual gift, she says, was viewed differently by her employers that they called her “a dangerous woman.”

Montuya’s lawsuit, which requests for a jury trial, is seeking compensatory damages in the amount of $150,000, liquidated damages as mandated by law, attorneys’ fees and costs; punitive damages in the amount of $500,000, and a restraining order stopping defendants from punishing or removing the plaintiff from the United States.

Meanwhile, Mary Gately, the lawyer for the defendants, told the Reporter she has presented to court “sufficient legal grounds to dismiss the case.”

Under the “motion to dismiss and quash service of process” filed May 26, 2010 and obtained by the Reporter, Gately said the Lebanese diplomat and his wife are “on the official Diplomatic List published by the U.S. Department of State known as the White List.”

“The White List identifies those individuals who are entitled to full immunity under provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” Gatley told the Reporter.

“And since my clients are on this list, the court must defer to their diplomatic status and dismiss the complaint.”

“The Vienna Convention establishes that a diplomatic agent enjoys immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state...and immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction,” Gately noted.

Gately, in an interview with the Reporter, added that “there’s no truth” to all the claims of the complainant.

She, however, did not elaborate.

Her motion to dismiss, likewise, did not directly address the housekeeper’s claims of slavery and abuse.

In 2008, another Filipina housekeeper filed a slavery complaint in a New York federal court against the Philippine ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja, his wife Norma and their daughter Maria Elizabeth B. Facundo.

The civil complaint is still pending, with the defendants’ lawyers also invoking “diplomatic immunity from criminal, civil and administrative suits from all courts of the United States and its states under the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR).”

Baja is now retired from the foreign service.

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